GeneSeek, the Lincoln, NE-based unit of Neogen that traced the linage and genetics behind the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in 2003, is back in the news with a rapid test for all the important strains of E. coli.

Called NeoSEEK, the test uses a DNA detection method to identify the presence of any of the seven most common strains of toxin-producing E. coli in the U.S — O157; O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145.

NeoSEEK says it will provide next-day test results and that the test can be adapted to detect almost any bacterium in any food sample, including the rare E. coli O104:H4 currently plaguing Europe.

GeneSeek, a commercial agricultural genetics laboratory housed at the University of Nebraska Technology Park, was acquired by the food and animal safely firm, Neogen, in April 2010.

“The NeoSEEK food safety technology is exactly the type of technology we envisioned developing when we acquired GeneSeek,” said James Herbert, Neogen’s chairman and CEO, in a news release. “GeneSeek has been very successful in employing DNA genotyping technology for animal applications. Food safety applications are natural extensions of that technology. As recent worldwide food recalls have clearly shown, regulators and the food industry need a rapid, DNA-definitive test for bacterial pathogens. NeoSEEK provides that DNA-definitive test result.”

The NeoSEEK technology uses mass spectrometry-based multiplexing to develop a “DNA bar code” for bacteria in a food sample, and then compares those results with the known genetic makeup of the target E. coli strains to identify and differentiate the target strains. NeoSEEK assays a total of 71 independent genetic markers to detect and identify, which provides results much sooner than conventional cultural methods. The method allows a limit of detection far more sensitive than existing rapid methods for the pathogens.

The Lincoln Star Journal reports that the expanding GeneSeek has taken another 2,000 square feet of space at the Big Red Technology Park since the year began.

E. coli O157:H7 has been banned in U.S. meat since 1994.  The Obama Administration is currently deciding whether to also ban an additional six common toxin-producing strains.

Whether sufficient testing regimes exist to support such a ban has been an issue, but GeneSeek and other commercial services may be making the availability of testing a non-issue.

As recently as mid June, the University of Arkansas announced its Litmus Rapid B (LRB) test, also for detecting pathogenic E. coli bacteria.